Sometimes you need to get online on the move, and only your laptop will do. Smartphones and laptops can do only so much. Here's everything you need to know about USB dongles, Mi-Fi and tethering.
At home, virtually everyone uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet from a laptop. But what do you do when you're on the move anywhere out of Wi-Fi coverage?
Some laptops have a SIM card slot so you can get 3G mobile internet wherever you are - within 3G coverage areas obviously - but these are few and far between. Chances are your laptop doesn't have built in 3G, so your options are a USB dongle, a portable 'Mi-Fi' router or to tether your laptop to your smartphone. Let's look at each of these options.
How to get mobile internet on your laptop: USB dongles
A USB dongle is simply a means of adding a SIM card slot to your laptop. Dongles are available to buy on their own, both 3G and 4G versions, but you can also buy them from mobile operators in a package with a SIM - just as you'd buy a phone.
For example, Three offers a ZTE 4G dongle with data plans from £8 per month (with an up-front cost of £35 for the dongle itself).
Virtually all mobile operators offer these USB dongles. You will find that 3G plans (and dongles) are cheaper.
How to get mobile internet on your laptop: Mi-Fi
Another option is Mi-Fi, which is a good choice if you want to share your mobile broadband connection between several Wi-Fi devices (including your laptop). This is a different type of 'dongle' which is best thought of as a portable wireless router. It's usually battery powered, but can work from the mains if you plug in its charger.
You can buy a Mi-Fi device, or a USB dongle, on its own but it pays to work out the total cost of the dongle and monthly cost. Some deals tie you into a 24-month contract, while others let you buy the SIM only on a rolling monthly contract which you can cancel at any time.
If you're buying a dongle or Mi-Fi device from a mobile operator such as EE, Three or 02, watch out for any extra costs, such as renting the dongle, or buying a 'locked' device that will work only with that operator's SIM cards.
How to get mobile internet on your laptop: tethering
A third option is to share your smartphone's 3G or 4G mobile internet with your laptop (or tablet). In order to use your phone as a mobile hotspot, you'll need a smartphone which has this option (not all do) and a tariff which allows tethering. If you're unsure, speak to your phone or SIM provider.
For more information, see How to use your smartphone as a Wi-Fi hotspot: a guide to tethering